Last weekend the elderly Denon speaker system that has boosted the weedy sound of my various television for the past eight years finally gave up the ghost. I had been meaning to replace it for some time but was stalled because of laziness and a lack of knowledge of what to buy. Apart from other considerations, the Denon’s age meant that it lacked HDMI ports and the ability to work seamlessly with modern smart TVs.
The Denon system was also cumbersome, with wires and speakers all over the place. The new soundbars, which sit below the TV, with or without an accompanying subwoofer, seem to offer the best minimalist approach. But are they any good?
My first thought was to go hunting among the specialist shops, seeking some advice. Then I remembered my Readly subscription. Within minutes I was looking at the last twelve months’ issues of What Hi-Fi? on my new iPad Air 2. I soon narrowed down my choice to three soundbars, all of which (I was assured by the magazine) would suit my purpose. They were the top-rated items in the various price categories I was interested in: The Philips HTL5140 at £270, the Q Acoustics 4 at £400 and the Yamaha YSP-2500 at £800.
With access to all the back issues on my iPad, I was able to find the three issues containing the full reviews of the selected models. The decision was soon made: I would go for the QA 4, with its built-in sub-woofer, or the Yamaha YSP-2500.
My local branch of Richer Sounds had both in stock and, after a chat, I ended up with the more expensive Yamaha (slightly discounted at £749) because of its reportedly superior performance, external wireless sub-woofer and loads of connectors. I also liked the idea of the separate sub-woofer and found the QA 4 a little too deep, something which rather spoils the effect of opting for a soundbar instead of a component surround-sound system.
Back home, the unit took less than half an hour to install and is now working perfectly. Unlike my old system, which had few options for inter-connectivity, the Yamaha has sufficient HDMI ports for all my boxes (cable, Apple TV, satellite) plus an ARC (audio return channel) HDMI for connection to the Samsung Smart TV. As a result, all my peripherals are now commanded by the Yamaha and there is just one HDMI cable going to the TV.
The new system offers perhaps too much choice in terms of special sound effects (the cheaper but highly rated Q Acoustics 4 takes a more simplistic approach and this can often be seen as an advantage). However, I am getting to grips with all this technology and have installed the HT Controller iPhone App to link to the Yamaha. It works well.
So far I have not calibrated the sound in order to achieve the best surround effect. The Yamaha comes with a microphone and a small cardboard tower which is erected at the listening position and used to calibrate the speakers so that they beam the sound towards the walls in order to create the best results. I will fiddle with this over the Christmas holiday and tweak my sound to perfection.
But back to Readly. This wonderful read-all-you-can-find magazine browser has again proved its worth, both in terms of entertainment and usefulness. For £9.99 a month it is now an indispensible part of my minimalistic life. It is truly the Spotify for magazines and periodicals. And all those back issues are now on my iPad instead of cluttering up the smallest room in the house.